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A farm forester’s experience with a Peterson mill

Peter van Essen, New Zealand Tree Grower August 2013.

I bought a Peterson automated swingblade mill in 2002 to use trees from young woodlots which I had planted. I chose this mill because of its portability, easy blade maintenance, and ability to be set up on any terrain and be operated by one person. Before I had the equipment to move logs any distance I would set the mill up where I had felled the trees, including on some steep slopes. With a bit of ingenuity the mill can be set up nearly anywhere.

I have a 20 centimetre mill which will cut a wide range of dimensions, and cutting full log width slabs is also possible. I specifically wanted to use small diameter thinnings of pine, eucalypt, cypress and acacia from my woodlots, which would otherwise have been thinned to waste or for firewood. I have built a number of sheds and a workshop from these timbers as well as trailer decks, gates, fencing and other projects.

Harps instead of firewood

I have been able to mill specialty timbers from amenity trees gleaned from neighbours’ wind-throws and other clearings. I have also milled elm, ash, sycamore, poplar, Norway spruce, blackwood and Japanese cedar from such sources and the timber has been used for my various wood-working projects. This has included making some musical instruments such as harps and ukuleles. These trees would otherwise have ended up as firewood, but the timber is far too valuable for that and my portable mill has enabled me to tap into this otherwise wasted resource.

Apart from a few milling jobs for others, I have been cutting mostly for my own use and the mill has proved to be efficient and effective, ideally suited to my needs. With my low annual operating hours, maintenance costs have been minimal. I am still running my original saw blade, which is easily sharpened on the mill in a few minutes with the diamond grinder which was provided.

Continuous cover plan

I have continued planting since buying the mill and these woodlots now require thinning. I will therefore be increasing my rate of production thinning and the mill will be getting more use in the coming years. By planting a range of species at staged intervals, and using small area harvesting, I am trying as far as is practicable to maintain about 50 hectares in continuous forest cover. The mill will be my main ally in this plan.

Milling on-site and leaving the sawdust and waste in the forest is far more efficient for me than carting heavy, wet logs off-site to mill and having to dispose of the waste from the mill site. Air-drying the timber on the site means I only have to transport the cut timber when it is dry at a fraction of the weight.

This swing-blade mill has been an excellent machine for me. I only wish I had the mill and the trees when I built our house in 1992.

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